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4 March 2021

How to spot a messaging scam

Messaging scams can be very convincing, so it’s important to know what to watch out for to stay ahead of the fraudsters.
Which?Editorial team

What is a text or messaging scam?

Scammers are increasingly taking advantage of smartphones and are getting very clever with how they try to take your hard-earned money.

They can even make it look like a legitimate organisation is contacting you via text or a messaging app by using identity masking technology to change the name displayed as the sender. This is known as ‘number spoofing’.

If you get sent a scam message, it’s important you report it so others don’t fall victim. Read more about how to report a scam in our free guide.

Fraudsters can use many different types of of messaging systems and apps, like SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Skype, Google Hangouts, Snapchat and many any other platforms to try scam you out of your money.

Key Information

What does a messaging scam look like?

While scammers are getting more cunning at making a scam message look like the real thing, there are some signs you can watch out for. Read our seven tips to avoid messaging scams.

1 Unexpected contact

Think about how that organisation normally contacts you and if it isn't via a message, contact them directly to check it's legitimate.

A genuine organisation will never contact you out of the blue and ask you to verify your details, request personal or banking details or tell you to transfer money via a message.

If in doubt, contact the organisation using a number you've found independently of the message.

2 Check for spelling or grammar errors

Genuine organisations will rarely, if ever, make glaring spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, and if so it will usually be an isolated incident.

If the message doesn't look professional, it's probably a scam - even if it drops into a message chain from your bank.

If you follow a link in the message, it could send you to an imposter website set up to steal your money or personal data. In some cases it could even infect your smartphone with malware.

Always look up an organisation's contact details independently and get in touch to verify the message.

4 Don't share any personal information

If you think you've been targeted by a scam message, don't share any personal information, your banking details or Pin.

Legitimate organisations, such as banks or HMRC, will never ask for your personal or banking details through a message or text.

Key Information

Spot a scam bank message

If you get a message purporting to be from your bank, always treat this with caution. And know the eight things your bank will never ask you.

The British Bankers' Association says your bank will never:

  • Ask for your Pin or internet banking password
  • Send someone to your home to collect cards or banking information
  • Ask you to email or text personal or banking information
  • Email a link where you have to then input your internet banking details
  • Ask you to authorise a funds transfer which you haven’t requested
  • Tell you to invest in diamonds, land or other commodities
  • Ask you to carry out a test transaction
  • Send you to a mobile app other than their own official app

5 Contact the organisation directly

If you're suspicious, always check for their contact details online and get in touch directly to check it really was them.

Make sure you do this via a trusted contact number, such as the one listed on their website or one you've been given in any previous contact you've had with them via email or post.

6 Don't reply, and delete it

If you reply, you could alert the scammers to the fact your number is active. This could then mean you'll receive a barrage of unwanted messages.

You should make a note of the number and the content of the message so you can report it, you could even consider taking a screenshot of it as evidence.

Then delete it from your phone.

7 Report it

If you get sent a scam message, it’s important you report it so others don’t fall victim.

You can do this by contacting your mobile provider if it was a SMS. You should also report the scam to Action Fraud, no matter which platform you were contacted on.

Read more about how to report a scam in our free guide.

Key Information

The ‘Sarah’ scam

The scammer targets parents and sends a message from an unknown number, pretending to be from Sarah - or another common woman’s name - and says they’ve been in an accident.

An example reported to Action Fraud reads:

‘Hi it’s Sarah. I need you to do a favour if possible. I had a small accident & broke my fibula & left elbow. Can you text me back once you get this message x’

However, there are many different variations of the scam which involved different emergency scenarios or different women’s names.

The aim is to get you to reply to the message which will send the scammer £20.